Ryland P. "Skip" Davis, interim director of Spokane International Airport, says he wants to launch an effort to revitalize Felts Field Airport before year-end.
The plan would hinge on landing a fixed-based operator (FBO) to provide support and maintenance services to private and commercial aircraft and expand the customer base at the airport, which has a 97-year history in aviation, Davis says.
"This is a community asset, not just an airport asset," he says.
Since Felts Field has been without an FBO, customer service at the airport has been lacking for people who fly in business aircraft and for traveling pilots arriving after normal airport operating hours, Davis says. The airport hasn't provided on a consistent basis such amenities as toilets, phones, and compressed air so airplane tires can be aired up. The airport also lacks 24-hour lounge facilities for pilots to rest comfortably and to obtain weather reports, he says.
The airport is attempting to provide those services on an interim basis, he says.
"It is my hope that shortly we will have an FBO on the field that could provide those services in a more consistent way," he told the Spokane Airport Board during a regular meeting in August.
For a time, the airport had intermittent problems providing fuel due to antiquated equipment and tanks, he says. That problem has since been resolved, but it might have harmed the airport's reputation, he adds.
Total air traffic at Felts Field for the first seven months of this year was about 5.1 percent higher than the year-earlier period, but traffic just for June and July was down 4.9 percent and 14.3 percent, respectively, compared with the year-earlier months, an airport traffic and operations report says.
Providing basic services dependably will go a long way toward improving the airport's reputation and increasing traffic, Davis says.
FBOs typically refuel and service or repair planes, and often also rent aircraft and provide flight training and flight-planning resources, as well as other convenience amenities for pilots. They also often provide charter flight service.
Felts Field Aviation Inc., which had been the FBO at Felts Field for 34 years, closed most of its operations, other than fuel service and charter flights, this past spring after it was unable to negotiate a lease with the airport to continue as FBO. The board had issued a request for proposals for an FBO in the summer of 2009, but didn't receive a single response.
Davis says he expects the Spokane Airport Board will issue a request for proposals for an FBO within 45 days. The board maintains and operates Felts Field Airport at the north end of Fancher Way on the east edge of the city of Spokane and Spokane International Airport on the West Plains. Both airports are owned jointly by the city of Spokane and Spokane County.
Larry Schmedding, Felts Field Aviation's general manager, says he's waiting to see the request for proposals before deciding whether the company will pursue the FBO contract.
"We would have to take a look at the scope of the request," Schmedding says.
He declined to disclose details of the earlier failed negotiations with the Airport Board, but says the board's lease requirements weren't economical.
"It didn't make sense before," Schmedding says. "That's why there were no responses."
Davis says he would like to see an FBO in place at Felts while he's still in charge of the airports. "I want a solution before the end of the year," he says.
The Airport Board announced last week that it's accepting applications for a permanent airport director through Nov. 1 and hopes to fill the position in the first quarter of 2011.
Davis, who is a pilot and owns an airplane based at Felts Field, was appointed interim director of Spokane International Airport in July, when former director Neal Sealock resigned.
Davis says the minimum specifications for an FBO at Felts will be more reflective of the current economy in the new request for proposals and will encourage commercial opportunities more than its 2009 request for proposals did. He's expecting several proposals from businesses interested in becoming the FBO at Felts, he says.
"I think we can get enough interest there that it will be competitive," he says.
The new request for proposals likely won't include minimum square footage for commercial sales and services, hours of operation, and staffing requirements, which might have discouraged potential applicants from responding to the 2009 request, Davis says.
He adds that the new request also likely will allow more flexibility for independent operators who might want to provide services at the airport.
Davis says he would prefer that an FBO or other fuel supplier extend hours during which trucks will deliver fuel to aircraft at hangars in the late afternoon. The current mobile fuel service at Felts Field operates just from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The short hours for mobile fueling aren't convenient for jet and turboprop aircraft operators that might need fuel for later flights and currently have to taxi to a stationary pump for after-hour fueling, Davis says. Because regular maintenance requirements for jet and turboprop engines are based on the amount of time they run, "it counts against their cycle time to have to start the engines to get fuel," he says.
Davis says Felts Field, which opened in 1913, has a rich history in aviation, starting as a landing field in a park area next to the Spokane River. In the 1930s and 1940s, Felts Field served as Spokane's municipal airport, and the original airport terminal there is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, Felts Field is home to several flying groups, including a group of four Stearman biplane pilots who recently won national competitions for formation and aerobatic flying.
Davis says he expects that an upcoming class of airplanes, called light sport aircraft, or LSA, will play a large role in the future of Felts Field. The Federal Aviation Administration defines LSA as one- or two-person planes with a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds, an unpressurized cabin, and a top level-flight speed of 138 mph.
Davis says LSA are less expensive to operate and require less training to fly than conventional airplanes. For example, the Piper Aircraft Co.'s Web site says its PiperSport Cub LSA lists for $120,000 and can fly 690 miles on 30 gallons of fuel.
Davis says he would like to see three or four annual fly-in events and some static displays at Felts Field to promote aviation there.
"I think that would excite more people about the potential at Felts," he says.
The airport is enjoying local support, and demand for hangars is strong at Felts Field, says Todd Woodard, spokesman for Spokane International Airport. New hangars are planned or under construction on three recently leased parcels, and no other parcels currently are ready to be developed.
"The last parcel at the east end of the airport has been spoken for," Woodard says.
Sometime in the future, the airport expects to lease out more land for hangars adjacent to Taxiway B, where the airport is installing a run-up apron for pilots to do final checks prior to takeoff.
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